Feminist Midrash on TV: Lifetime’s “The Red Tent” Miniseries

I feel like I need to begin this post by admitting that the only way I even knew The Red Tent miniseries had been made was because I saw an ad for it while watching the Lifetime Grumpy Cat movie (and no I am not at all ashamed that I was watching it because it was hilarious). But despite learning about it by accident, I knew just from the trailer that I wanted to watch this miniseries, if only to see what they did with it. For those of you who don’t know, The Red Tent is a book published in 1997 that takes the character of Dinah from the Bible and gives her a fuller story, similar to the way that Jewish midrash expands on gaps in the biblical narrative. I had known about The Red Tent for years but never actually read it until I was taking a religious studies class in college on feminist interpretations of the bible. The trailer below isn’t the one I saw, but if you think the trailer is intriguing, read on for more of my spoiler-free thoughts about the miniseries!

What The Red Tent miniseries does best is what’s most important: tell Dinah’s story, and let her voice shine through. Having just watched Rebecca Ferguson play Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen a couple weeks ago, it was fun to see her settle into the role of Dinah, who is initially a much more feisty character than Elizabeth. Fans of Reign will be amused by Sean Teale (Conde on Reign) as Prince Shalem, the prince Dinah falls in love with, even though their story together does not have a happy ending. Other notable cast members include Minnie Driver as Leah, Morena Baccarin as Rachel, and Iain Glen as Jacob.

Dinah and her father, Jacob (Source)
Dinah and her father, Jacob (Source)

The two-part miniseries’ weakest parts are pretty much what you would expect: a white-washed cast, and not enough time to fully develop all of the characters. The original book is over 300 pages long, and compressing all of Dinah’s story into two 88-minute episodes weakens pretty much all of the secondary characters because of how many there are. Dinah’s mother, Leah, is a very complex character in the book, but we don’t get to see that in the miniseries. Nor do we get to fully appreciate the complicated relationships between Jacob’s four wives, which was another very interesting part of the novel. In short, The Red Tent miniseries was good, but because of how much it had to be cut down from the original novel, some of the most powerful relationships between women were barely shown, because they got crowded out by just trying to hit all the major plot points. If you’re a fan of the book and excited by the idea of seeing it brought to life, then the miniseries is worth watching. But if not, you’re probably better off just reading the book to appreciate the full potential of this feminist midrash.

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